Father Shawn Ratigan of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, led by Bishop Robert Finn, has pleaded guilty in Federal Court to four counts of producing child pornography and one count of attempted production of child pornography. Both Ratigan's and Bishop Finn's defenses (Finn is charged with failing to report it) had become a rallying point for some in the Catholic Right, particularly those having intersecting activity in Opus Dei, the Bill Donohue-led Catholic League and neoconservatism. They further used the incident to try to destroy the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). But now that Ratigan has confessed to his pedophilia-related crimes -- what do these reactionaries who imagine themselves as defenders of the faith have to say for themselves?
The trial date for Bishop Finn has been set for September 24, 2012. As I reported here and here, Bishop Finn, previously best known for his Opus Dei vision for the Church and society, had constructive knowledge of improper touching of young girls and possession of child pornography by Ratigan. Ratigan's defense was eventually taken over by Opus Bono Sacerdotii (OBS), a Michigan-based organization funded by Domino's Pizza chain founder Tom Monaghan. OBS sees its mission as defending priests from allegations of sexual abuse. OBS had Ratigan examined by a staff psychiatrist who determined that Ratigan was not a pedophile but suffering from "loneliness and depression."
That questionable diagnosis has been superceded by Ratigan's August 2, 2012 confession and guilty pleas in Federal Court. As The Kansas City Star reported:
Thursday afternoon, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan stood in the very public forum of a federal courtroom and confessed to some of his own.
Ratigan, 46, pleaded guilty to using five girls to produce or attempt to produce child pornography over several years while serving as pastor to congregations in the Northland and St. Joseph.
As well as:
Each count carries a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison.
"When a defendant who wears a religious collar, who has the trust of the community, engages in conduct of this nature, his crimes are more devastating and more reprehensible," said David M. Ketchmark, acting U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri. "With today's guilty pleas ... there's an assurance that he will face stiff mandatory penalties and that he won't have an opportunity to harm another child."
Ketchmark said prosecutors will recommend what he termed "a virtual life sentence."
This brings us back to Bill Donohue of the Catholic League who has distinguished himself by attacking Ratigan's victims; the The Kansas City Star for covering the crimes and the cover-up; and SNAP and their attorneys for advocating for the victims. Earlier in the year he staged a number of events in Kansas City at which he denounced anyone who dared to question Bishop Finn's actions in the matter. So far, the response of Donahue, and (as far as I know) the other reactionaries mentioned above, has been absolute silence. A quick view of the Catholic League's web page containing the organization's most recent press releases has nary a cyber peep about Kansas City, including one statement on child abuse. What then do we hear in the silence of the Church and its archest defenders? For at least this Catholic it confirms my initial belief that the actions of Donohue, his organization, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and all those who coalesced around Bishop Finn, that their actions on Kansas City had nothing to do with the well-being of everyday Catholics and everything to do with keeping the hierarchy free from accountability.
Bishop Finn has many powerful friends on the Catholic Right. As a hard charging leader of what he has called "the church militant" and one of four American Opus Dei bishops, Finn is clearly one of their own. The fact that these activists want to save Finn's position as bishop at almost any cost, suggests that their goals for the Church as a bastion of religious and political authoritarianism takes precedence over everything else -- including the safety and well being of children. Silence might be a legitimate legal consideration for some in light of Finn's pending trial. But it soon will be time for Donohue and his cohorts to announce their penance. They could begin by apologizing to Ratigan's victims; explaining how they could have been so wrong; telling us how they intend to mend their ways; and making some kind of restitution not only to the victims of children in the care of the Church, but to all those whom they have subjected to calumny.